Revisiting Cup Series rivalries from the regular season


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Jeff Curry
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New car. New drama.

The Next Gen car has certainly lived up to the excitement it built before the start of the 2022 season. There’s been parity across the board with 16 different winners this season, and with that comes a good amount of run-ins that have taken place throughout the year. Much of the friction has been between the 16 drivers that made up the full playoff field, too.

It’s safe to say there was enough beef in the regular season to create a surplus at your local burger joint. Let’s look back at some of the quarrels throughout the 2022 season – with a recent addition from a Round of 12 playoff race – and wonder if any will spark back up when the Round of 8 concludes Sunday at Martinsville Speedway (2 p.m. ET, NBC, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

RELATED: Playoff standings

CHASE ELLIOTT & KYLE LARSON (Auto Club, Watkins Glen)

The first major run-in of the season came late in the spring race at Auto Club Speedway as Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott made contact after Larson threw an unintentional block on his Chevrolet counterpart down the frontstretch with 21 to go. The right side of Elliott’s No. 9 Chevy hit the wall and cut a tire a few laps later. Larson went on to win the race while Elliott finished two laps down in 26th.

Larson wouldn’t score his second win of 2022 until Watkins Glen International in August, and again, it came at the expense of Elliott. On the final restart, Larson and Elliott led the field into Turn 1 and at the corner exit, Larson ran Elliott wide and the two made slight contact. The No. 5 Chevy cleared for the lead while Elliott dropped a few spots, resulting in a fourth-place finish.

These two teammates appear to be on friendly terms in the aftermath, with the ultimate goal of bringing home a third-straight championship for Chevy and Hendrick, but it sure will be something to watch through the playoffs as Elliott tries to earn his crown back from the driver that took it from him in 2021.

TYLER REDDICK & CHASE BRISCOE (Bristol Dirt)

There’s no rivalry here and this is probably the most cordial a driver has ever been after being spun on the final lap of a race, but with Bristol Motor Speedway closing out the Round of 16 it’s worth bringing up how the most recent race at ‘The Last Great Colosseum’ ended. Reddick and Briscoe ran 1-2 in the closing laps of the spring race on the Bristol dirt layout and in the final corner of the final lap, Briscoe attempted a slide job on the No. 8 Chevrolet. Instead of getting in front of him, Briscoe made contact with Reddick and both spun. Kyle Busch went on to steal the win while Reddick came home runner-up and Briscoe fell to a 22nd-place finish.

Reddick and Briscoe shook hands after and all appears fine between the two with the playoffs beginning Sunday. For now.

WILLIAM BYRON & JOEY LOGANO (Darlington)

Here’s where early-season beef could first show in the playoffs. With the Southern 500 approaching Sunday evening, it’s worth noting how the final laps transpired in a wild spring race that saw one-third of the field DNF. Coming down to the wire, Byron appeared to have the car to take his third victory of the year, but instead, Logano took matters into his own hands and moved the No. 24 Chevrolet with two laps to go in Turn 3. Byron slammed the wall and had to settle for a 13th-place finish.

Spicy words were exchanged after the race as Logano noted he’ll “keep swinging” and the “gloves are off” while Byron was straight to the point and called Logano an “idiot.” If these two are battling each other for track position late Sunday, Byron will very likely have what happened in May on his mind.

ROSS CHASTAIN vs. MULTIPLE DRIVERS (Gateway, Atlanta, Pocono, Michigan)

It goes without saying that Ross Chastain ruffled some feathers during the regular season. The featured bout Chastain had was with Denny Hamlin, sparked at multiple tracks in the summer.

The Cup Series’ debut at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway saw some interesting tactics displayed by both Chastain and Hamlin. It began with Chastain moving the No. 11 Toyota as Chastain tried to get around Hamlin for multiple laps. The contact from Chastain to Hamlin compromised the No. 11 and Hamlin had enough damage to take any competitive speed out of the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Since he was out of race-winning contention, Hamlin decided to ride around Gateway and wait for Chastain to get to him. Once the two were side-by-side, it became quite the show as Hamlin brake-checked Chastain and did everything he could to become a thorn in the side of the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet.

2020 Cup champion Chase Elliott became a third party in the beef as Chastain spun him off Turn 4 later in the race. For one restart, Hamlin and Elliott joined forces with the No. 9 driver getting Chastain loose in Turn 1 and Hamlin following up with a side swipe off Turn 2.

Hamlin and Chastain’s beef reignited at Atlanta Motor Speedway in July as in the closing laps, Chastain’s damaged car got tight in Turns 3 and 4, which caused him to spin Hamlin with 14 laps to go.

With the score 2-0 in favor of Chastain, Hamlin exacted his revenge two weeks after Atlanta. In the final stage at Pocono Raceway, Chastain and Hamlin led the field to a restart. Coming out of Turn 1, Hamlin overran the corner and used Chastain as his brake, which put the No. 1 Chevy in the wall, thus spinning and crashing down the backstretch.

Hamlin went on to cross the start/finish line first at the end of race but was later disqualified alongside his JGR teammate Kyle Busch.

Chastain’s run-ins with Toyotas didn’t end there. Christopher Bell returned the favor of Chastain’s aggressive driving and both wound up in the wall down the frontstretch late at Michigan International Speedway. A week later, Chastain made contact with Kyle Busch at Richmond Raceway but nothing has come of it for now. With Darlington and Bristol opening the Round of 16, however, it’s hard to believe drivers won’t take it easy on Chastain.

AUSTIN CINDRIC & AUSTIN DILLON (Daytona)

While Austin Cindric called it “fair game” for Austin Dillon to move him to clinch his way into the playoffs, it probably doesn’t go over well for a driver to pull a ‘bump-and-run’ move at one of NASCAR’s fastest tracks. Cindric and Dillon will be in a battle to reach the Round of 12 as both enter the playoffs below the bubble for the next round. If the No. 2 Team Penske Ford finds itself behind the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevy, Cindric probably won’t have an issue applying the bumper at any of the next three races.

POSTSEASON UPDATE

WILLIAM BYRON & DENNY HAMLIN (Texas)

Disputes aren’t limited to the regular season, as a pair of current championship-eligible drivers got into an on-track tussle during the Round of 12 race at Texas Motor Speedway. In reaction to almost hitting the wall off Turn 2, Byron spun Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota under caution that led to the two exchanging unpleasantries behind the pace car. Byron initially endured a points penalty for spinning Hamlin but the penalty was later amended that wiped out the points takeaway. Entering the Round of 8 elimination race at Martinsville Speedway, Byron currently owns a five-point advantage on Hamlin and both are directly above and under the elimination line heading to a track that’s no stranger to tempers flaring.